Gophers greats loyal to end

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 18, 2011 - 6:12 AM

Murray Warmath's players drew on almost 60 years of memories of a man they considered a surrogate dad.

They've been getting together on Thursdays for years. They used to have lunch at Bob McNamara's Sports Bar, which was closed to make way for condos. Now they meet at Legends, a bunch of folks with University of Minnesota ties.

On this day, McNamara was there with his brother Pinky, former Gophers football player and assistant coach Dick Larson, former Gophers trainer Jim Marshall and former men's basketball coach Jim Dutcher, among others.

At one point, Bob McNamara stood up and clanged his glass for attention. Thursday's meeting had two purposes, to wish Pinky a happy birthday and to mourn the passing of Murray Warmath. There was a moment of silence, then memories.

That's the way it was all over the country for former players of Warmath, who died Wednesday evening in Bloomington at the age of 98. Bobby Bell, down in Arizona, was getting ready to fly to Florida to see his 1960 teammate Judge Dickson.

Jim Carter, also down south, was getting ready to come home in time for Monday's service. After their own moments of silence, they talked about their former coach.

"He was like a father to me," said Bell, one of many All-Americas that Warmath coached and one of the many black players Warmath recruited long before most other schools were willing. "For him to give me an opportunity was the best thing that ever happened to me. ... It's like I lost a surrogate father. I did. He'd go to bat for you, I'd do anything for him. This is a tough thing."

Carter said Warmath's death is "a big loss for me."

Bob McNamara was Warmath's first captain at Minnesota, in 1954. His lasting memory is how Warmath kept in touch with his former players and how close those players remained.

"He kept us together for 60 years," he said. "The word loyalty fits Murray. He always respected the university, always sold the university. That's why his players respected him."

Ezell Jones, John Williams, Bob Stein and Jim Carter were teammates on the 1967 team that won a share of the Gophers' last Big Ten Conference championship. Stein called Warmath a civil-rights leader without ever intending to be.

"He treated people the way you would treat him," Stein said.

Jones, a black man recruited out of Memphis, graduated from the U and stayed in the Twin Cities.

"Murray meant a lot to me, OK? Murray made a difference in this country in the lives of a lot of young black men," he said. "He was a promise-keeper for me and a lot of other young men who came along at the same time."

Williams left Minnesota and played in the NFL for 12 seasons, winning a Super Bowl ring. After retiring, he returned to Minnesota and now has a Minneapolis dental practice.

"He was personable, yet always stern," Williams said. "He was a strong man."

Peter Franzen, a family friend who often helped Warmath get to local events and games, recalled being at a Vikings practice last fall. The two were watching from one end zone when Warmath pointed out a rookie guard. He had a tell, Warmath said. He lined up with his hand flat on the ground for a running play, in a fist for a passing play.

"We were 60 yards away," Franzen said. "I couldn't even see his hand."

Franzen was with Warmath on Wednesday. Warmath's son Murray and family friend Sally Stadum were en route to the Twin Cities from San Diego and Portland, Ore., respectively. Franzen, sitting by Warmath's bed, kept whispering in his ear. They're coming, he said. They'll be here soon.

Both arrived at about the same time and were able to spend some time with Warmath before he passed.

"I think he told death to sit down and wait his turn," Franzen said.

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